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Book: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

One day, I was browsing through the calendar of events on our neighborhood library's website and found this title. It was chosen for January month's read by "Around the World" book club. This book club reads a book every month that relates to different countries; like they may be set there, have characters from there, reflect the local culture or written by authors from that country. I found the synopsis intriguing. Neither the book was available at the library nor I could get a soft copy. After a wait of more than 2 months, I got the hard bound copy from the library. 

Homegoing, is a historical fiction novel, written by Yaa Gyasi. It is her debut novel, published in 2016 and has won her several awards like National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award for best first book, PEN/ Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction etc. 

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana. Her family migrated to America when she was around 10 years and subsequently raised in Alabama. Homegoing was inspired by her trip to Ghana in 2009, nearly two decades after leaving her home country. She also quoted that she drew inspiration from books like Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin.

The first thing we notice in this book is the Akan proverb which is profound. We appreciate its relevance as we read through the book. 

“The family is like the forest:

if you are outside it is dense; 

if you are inside you see that 

each tree has its own position.” 

This book deals with the lives of two half-sisters - Effia and Esi, and the lives of their descendants traversing seven generations. The story is set in Ghana and America. Maame gives birth to Effia and Esi under different circumstances, in different villages in Ghana, in the eighteenth century. Effia is born in Fanteland to Maame and Baaba. Effia's step mother is cruel to her, while her father is very kind and loving. Effia is married to an affluent colonist and lives in comfort in a Castle on Cape Coast. When Baaba is on his death bed, Effia's step-brother reveals her about her biological mother. 

On the other hand, Esi is born to a respected warrior in Asanteland. Asantes used to raid other villages, capture people and trade them as slaves. One night, Esi's village is attacked by another group. Sensing the impending danger, Maame forces Esi to flee and tells her she has a half-sister. While trying to escape, Esi is captured and imprisoned at the dungeon beneath the same castle where Effia lives. From there, Esi is shipped to America and later sold into slavery. 

Over the centuries to follow, Effia's lineage goes through warfare in Ghana as Fanteland and Asanteland struggle with slave trade and British colonization. Esi's descendants live in slavery and their lives drag them from the plantations of the South to the Civil war and the Great Migration, from there to the coal mines of Pratt City in Alabama and finally to Harlem in New York, in the current time. The story ends with Marjorie and Marcus, from the seventh generation uniting and visiting Ghana together, still unaware that they are related to each other.

In short, this book is about race, history, ancestry, time and how the lives of two people born to the same mother gets shaped entirely different by historical forces beyond their control. Unlike the usual, the author chose to explain the history of key characters from each generation (chapter-wise), in two threads with the help of a family tree. 

The author has knowledgeably captured the lives of everyone, especially the plight of people captivated and sold into slavery; working in the coal mines of Pratt City; how people of color were denied decent jobs for living, even in the 20th century; the emotions of people undergoing centuries of ill-treatment and inequality and their strong desire to change their lives and others for the better; their struggle for equality and respect in the society.

Personally, I felt the narration switching between both the lineages was slightly off and didn't keep me hooked. I took multiple breaks where I went without reading the book for a week or two. Each time, the story got me back on track. It is a commendable work by the author, which involves lot of research and analysis to blend in the details of historical significance into a fictional novel.

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  1. Description part is superb👌👌👏It's nice story of family tree.

  2. Super many u r grt..I loved it...


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